Brubeck Plays Brubeck
Brandenburg Gate: Revisted
Brubeck and Rushing
Buried Treasures is not the only buried treasure in this batch of Brubeck reissues. Columbia has kept Brubeck Plays Brubeck and Brubeck and Rushing interred in its vaults for decades. They are from the cream of the Brubeck catalogue, but both disappeared quickly during the LP era. One piece from each was in the Time Signatures box set, but until now neither has been on compact disc in its entirety.
Brubeck himself, it turns out, ran the tape recorder and made Brubeck Plays Brubeck alone in his California living room in 1956. The nine unaccompanied performances include the first versions of two of his most famous and influential pieces, "In Your Own Sweet Way" and "The Duke." Their melodies are indelible, but it may be that if Miles Davis had also annointed "When I Was Young" and "One Moment Worth Years," they, too, would be Aside from the tunes themselves, what lingers in the listener's mind is a distinct approach to harmony, the pianist's gently rocking swing, and a lightness of touch that is at odds with the frequent depiction of Brubeck as a keyboard pounder.
A restrained approach to the piano is also a key element in Brubeck and Rushing, a collaboration of pure joy. Count Basie would have been hard pressed to play a more elliptical solo than Brubeck's on "Melancholy Baby." This is one of the two great late-
period Rushing albums (the other is The You and Me That Used to Be on RCA Victor). In great voice and full of cheer, Rushing gives a masterly recital of standards and blues. Brubeck, Eugene Wright, and Joe Morello accompany him as if the four had been working together for years. Paul Desmond's alto solos are on a par with his best work of the period, and in his one chorus on "Blues in the Dark" he surpasses himself. The previously unissued "Shine On Harvest Moon" is spirited but rough.
Brubeck Time comes from 1954, shortly after Brubeck's picture appeared on Time's cover and launched him into general recognition. His original compositions were not yet in the quartet's repertoire. Brubeck's, Desmond's, Bob Bates' and Joe Dodge's stock in trade was excursions in creativity on the familiar chord changes of standards. The approach worked for Desmond on "Why Do I Love You," with chorus after chorus of his inventiveness. It succeeded gloriously on "Audrey," one of the finest blues solos of his career. Brubeck's vigor, chance-taking and rhythm-play at the keyboard, consistent through this session, were pronounced on "Stompin' for Mili." It is a kick to hear Dodge, a first-class time player, booting the soloists.
Brandenburg Gate: Revisited was Brubeck's 1961 collaboration with his brother Howard, who orchestrated Dave's Bach-like "Brandenburg Gate" into a suite of 18-and-a-half minutes, a voyage in the third stream. Howard Brubeck's melding of strings and classical forms with the quartet took into account the nature of the jazz players and their instruments. Consequently, there was little of the heavy-handedness or boredom that doom many such ventures. The Brubecks' treatment of "Brandenburg Gate" points up the universality of the cycle-of-fifths harmonies that also inspired John Lewis' "Django" and the Pachalbel canon, among hundreds of other compositions. There is a lovely section of the intuitive counterpoint that was a trademark of Brubeck's partnership with Desmond. The album has orchestrated versions of four other Brubeck tunes, with Desmond particularly inspired on "In Your Own Sweet Way."
Bravo Brubeck! is the quartet's collaboration with Mexican percussionist Salvador "Rabito" Agueros and guitarist Benjamin "Chamin" Correa in concert in Mexico City in 1967. Working out spontaneously on Latin standards, the musicians sound inspired and as familiar with one another as if they had rehearsed, which they had not. Brubeck's 1998 notes say that he had heard but never before played some of the tunes. High points: The energy and humor Brubeck lavished on "Cielito Lindo," the anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better exchanges between Morello and Agueros in "La Bamba," and Desmond's lyricism on "La Paloma Azul," which subsequently became permanent on his tune list. "Frenesi," rescued from LP rejection, is a worthy addition.
Buried Treasures was recorded at the same series of concerts as Bravo Brubeck! and never issued until now. It catches the quartet in as fine fettle without the Mexican guests as with them. The empathy, the tightness, the ability to anticipate that this band had developed in nearly a decade together was at its peak. "Mr. Broadway," at a furious clip, is pure exhiliration. The listener has to wonder at Wright's and Morello's cohesiveness, let alone their continued swing, under Brubeck's fragmentation of meter in his solo. There is a "Koto Song" with Desmond again proving himself a blues master and Brubeck as delicate as a French impressionist. All but one of the remaining pieces, "Forty Days," "You Go to My Head," "Take Five," and "St. Louis Blues" were regular fare for the Brubecks. "Sweet Georgia Brown" was not, but clearly should have been. In this performance, at least, it inspired Desmond to a stream of melodic and harmonic invention unusually witty even by his standards, and Brubeck to a fresh solo composed mainly of single-note lines. This was an impressive group. Seven months later, Brubeck disbanded it.
Next in the Brubeck reissue derby, Columbia should release the quartet's splendid albums of Rodgers and Hart (My Favorite Things) and Matt Dennis (Angel Eyes). They are now available on CD only as $30 imports.